Chef Erin Mahoney has a dream: to create a restaurant dedicated to the bright, aromatic flavours of the Caspian and Caucasus regions. With a location now in hand at the north end of Little Italy and architecture firm Ménard Dworkind on board to create the space, chef Mahoney (ex-Impasto, Le St-Urbain and La Bête à Pain) is bringing her experience and passion together to make that dream come true — and it’s called Joon.
Joined by her husband, advertising guru Ilya Daftari, with notable Little Italy chefs Michele Forgione and Stefano Faita as partners, the 50-plus seat, 2,000 square-foot venture is slated to open this spring.
Joon is a term of endearment in Farsi, translating to “spirit” or “soul”. Indeed, Joon (the restaurant) is a matter of the heart for Mahoney: She has focused on the countries of Armenia, Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Iran in her academic, personal, and culinary life for decades.
In addition to her Montreal kitchen credentials, Mahoney has specialized in these cuisines while working with prominent restaurants in London, such as Berenjak and the Drunken Butler, She has made repeat trips to the Caucasus for research and inspiration, and built up to her restaurant by hosting pop-ups in Montreal featuring Georgian khinkali dumplings and multi-course Persian feasts. Mahoney also created a lahmajoon pizza at Forgione and Faita’s Pizzeria Gema over the new year, as a preview of what’s to come at her restaurant.
The sharing element is a big part of Caucasus and Caspian food culture, and Mahoney’s aim at Joon is to evoke the warmth and generosity of a family meal. Diners lucky enough to have experienced Mahoney’s cooking over the past year will likely remember lively evenings at long tables, platters overflowing with herbs, homemade cheeses, breads, pickles, and charcuterie, all conveying a spirit of generosity and abundance. The approach will be the same at Joon, but with the flexibility to accommodate much smaller groups, or those who don’t necessarily want to sign up for a full feast.
Menu items in the works include Mahoney’s signature homemade basturma cured beef, yogurt dips from homemade curd, barbary flatbread with nigella and sesame seeds, chicken livers in pomegranate syrup, pkhali fresh and foraged greens with walnuts, and celebratory meat dishes, including stews and charcoal-grilled kebabs.
The menu will change with the seasons, emphasizing local and seasonal fare. “The beauty of the region is that the food is so fresh, healthy, and perfumed”, enthuses Mahoney.
The wine list will have “as much Georgian wine as possible”, says Mahoney, with plans to work with vintners and importers to put forward a robust wine offering at affordable price points — and be it wine or food, Mahoney says she’s excited to offer it.
“To be able to present this cuisine to the community, to forge new relationships with producers, abbatoirs, and vintners — that’s something I can focus on for the rest of my career.”